I've been home a week from my Robert Burridge workshop, a little miffed that the weather at Lac du Flambeau was so crummy, but happy that Indian Summer has arrived in southern Wisconsin.
It always takes me a while to process what I've seen at workshops, and the first couple days were mostly spent unpacking and rearranging my studio. About seven years ago I converted a narrow spare bedroom, large enough for only a twin bed and an easy chair, into my studio. It's charming in some ways, cozy, paneled with old pine, with sloping ceilings. It also is rather dark, with only two small dormer windows. After I took down and stored the bed I brought a florescent shop light up from the basement, added a full spectrum light, and I use what I have. I have one of those collapsible work tables that people use for church potlucks and rummage sales, and that is where I do my artwork. Bob Burridge said something that should have been obvious to me for the past years. If you are right handed, put your paints, pencil sharpener, brushes and so on on the right side of the table.
Well, duh. Why couldn't I figure that out?
I decided to reorganize. A small set of shelves cluttered with miscellaneous supplies, papers, watercolor palettes were moved off the table. Then I moved the container of pens, pencils, scissors and other tools I use on a daily basis to the right side of the work table. A small crookneck lamp and electric pencil sharpeners moved to the right as well. I covered the dark brown table with white shelf paper long ago for more reflected light, and I took Burridge's suggestion and covered the space with 4 mil. sheet plastic. I use this surface as my acrylic palette, and occasionally peel up dried paint for little play pieces like the birds you can see in the first picture. It allows me to feel like a little kid again in some ways; I don't worry too much about being messy.
5x5 inches, acrylic
I painted the bird, but I copied the idea from Bob Burridge. He does a demonstration series in his workshops to show a way to use the dried acrylic paint from the plastic sheeting. He also demonstrates negative painting with these birds. They're fun, playful, spontaneous, colorful. He calls his "circus birds" because the colors remind him of circus costumes, and for him that's appropriate. He once worked in a circus. I never did.
Which brings me to a concern I have about attending art workshops. How does a person learn attitudes and techniques from teachers without losing a little bit of personal style in the process? Perhaps painting like the last workshop instructor is just a temporary affliction, a way to practice concepts. I learned a bit about color choices, about use of materials, about working in series with a playful attitude, a good signing pen (Sharpie paint pen). I know he doesn't care if we do an entire flock of paint blob birds, since everyone necessarily brings a bit of themselves, even to copies. But I struggle to decide how to apply other people's good ideas about painting to subjects that are close to my own heart and experience. It drives me a little crazy to recognize when a painter has just worked with a popular teacher by the style of the painting. Hey, did you just take a workshop with (fill in the blank)? I imagine I'll be painting vases of flowers, drippy trees and "ethereal landscapes" for a while, but I hope that it isn't too long before they look like they belong to me.